44-year-old Nathaniel Woods is due to be executed in Alabama next week because three police officers were shot to death in 2004. The case raises alarm among activists and citizens because Woods has not really operated the police. The case against him is full of inconsistencies.
Prosecutors in Woods' case admit that he was not the shooter when officers Carlos "Curly" Owen, Harley Chisholm III and Charles Bennett were shot, but claims that he was an accomplice to their murders. Police reports that the shooter was Kerry Spencer, a friend of Woods, and Woods was indicted as his accomplice – a crime that will result in death in Alabama.
The fatal events occurred on June 17, 2004, writes The Appeal:
Three police officers were shot in a drug house on the west side of Birmingham, Alabama. It was a terrible scene. Officer Charles Bennett was lying on the back by the front door with a bullet wound to his face; The semi-automatic rifle it had inflicted was scattered nearby. Inside, officers Carlos "Curly" Owen and Harley Chisholm III were lying on the kitchen floor.
An officer, Michael Collins, had run away and survived. He told his colleagues from the Birmingham police that Kerry Spencer and Nathaniel Woods, lifelong friends who had dealt and used drugs in the pea-green one-story house in the Ensley neighborhood, were responsible for the murders. Spencer was the shooter, but the police claimed he hadn't acted alone. Woods was charged as an accomplice; in Alabama it is a capital crime that is punished with death.
At his trial in 2005, prosecutors told the jury that Woods was a cop-hater who had considered the plan to have the three officers killed. They called witnesses who said they heard him express his hatred of the police and also called Collins, the official who had escaped the shootout.
However, Woods defenders say important information was omitted during the process, including allegations that Chisholm and Owen, the killed officials, have been accused of benefiting from drug trafficking in Birmingham for years and receiving bribes from vendors. One of these dealers, Tyran Cooper, who ran the drug store where Woods and Spencer were on the day of the murders, was said to testify in the Woods trial, but did not. Cooper told The Appeal that he owed the officials money. During the Woods trial, Spencer testified that the officers had searched for Cooper earlier in the day. He claimed that he and Woods feared for their lives, and one of the police officers attacked him when he shot. Spencer testified that Woods had not pulled the trigger – a fact that no one disputed by law enforcement or the prosecutor – and that Woods is "100 percent innocent" of the murders.
Woods' current attorneys also claim that his attorneys were at the time providing their clients with misinformation about a crucial plea deal that was being offered. The appeal outlines the details:
After Spencer was sentenced to death, Jefferson's District Attorney David Barber offered Woods a plea deal that would have resulted in a 20-25 year sentence. But Woods declined the deal because his lawyers told him the state needed to prove that he was pulling the trigger to be convicted of capital murder. This was not the case under Alabama law, but Woods trusted the word of its lawyers, according to its 2017 Habeas petition. "Mr. Woods did not accept the plea deal because, with the advocate's encouragement, he thought he would be cleared of the allegations because the evidence would prove that he was not the shooter that day," says the file.
Woods defense teams are scheduled to appear on his behalf on Wednesday to delay his execution by another 30 days. If they are unsuccessful, Governor Kay Ivey would have to intervene by converting his punishment. Kerry Spencer, the man who operated the officers, is still on death row waiting for an appeal.
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